This week Bev & I headed down to the South coast for a weeks holiday. We stayed in a village called Galmpton that lies just outside of Paignton. The village is home to a decent real ale pub called The Manor Inn...but I digress. The holiday itself wasn't so much a wildlife holiday but I did squeeze in a bit of that type throughout the week, as I will highlight in this post.
Sunday 22nd September - Clennon Valley
On the Sunday I met up with a mate of mine, Mark Brook, who I know from a Facebook wildlife group called Nature Twats. When Mark said that he would take me 'up the Clennon Valley' I was rather concerned that it was a euphemism for something else but, luckily for me, Clennon Valley is actually a local nature reserve near the centre of Paignton.
The reserve is made up of a mixture of habitats. Parts of the reserve was quarried and since returned to nature with a number of wildlife rich pools. Other areas consist of limestone grassland and ancient woodland.
The walk we undertook was rather pleasant with our first stop being the pools. Here we were treated to Kingfisher, 2 Grey Wagtails and a rather photogenic Grey Heron. Two Peregrines were also seen over the reserve. On the pools there were still good numbers of dragonflies present with Common Darters and Southern Hawkers seen in good numbers. A Comma butterfly was also present on the plants near the water's edge.
The path that runs along the pool was full of warblers with many Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers 'wheeting' away. A personal highlight along this path was seeing a juvenile Bullfinch being fed by an adult male.
Ascending the slopes of the valley we were treated to a Clouded Yellow butterfly that flew fast across the bracken. A Red Admiral was also present here. Also in this area a Common Buzzard was seen soaring over head, 2 Jays flew through and a large party of Long-tailed Tits were seen flitting about.
Further up the valley, in the tree lined summit area, there were large numbers of Speckled Woods present.
It was at this point that we decided to head down the valley for some liquid refreshments. We headed down to the Inn on the Quay at Goodrington Sands, where we were joined by another Devonian nature twat, Al Wyatt. Needless to say the draught Tribute Ale was going down a bit too easily and things got somewhat messy later! What a superb start to the holiday!
Oh dear, things are about to get messy....
Monday 23rd September (am) - Berry Head:
This morning Bev and I headed to Berry Head National Nature Reserve, near Brixham. This headland is renowned for it's see watching and has a good mixture of habitats just behind the cliff tops. That said, as we left the car park, it also became very apparent that this is probably the most popular dog walking spot in the whole of south Devon! I've never seen so many pooches!
On arriving at the cliffs we were treated to seeing at least five groups of Gannets (5-7 birds in each) go past. A number of single Gannets and a single Guillemot were also noted. Perched on the rocks just off shore there were both Shags and Cormorants. Whilst we were there, large numbers of Swallows (and small numbers of House Martins) were seen leaving the coast and heading South on there migration.
The highlight of this visit though came in the form of the cetaceans with 2 Harbour Porpoise showing well and wheeling about just off shore. Further out to see a Dolphin was seen jumping out of the water. Superb!
On the walk back we were treated to cracking views of a Peregrine that came past just above the cliffs. Two Oystercatchers were on the rocks near by.
Monday 23rd September (pm) - Labrador Bay:
On the afternoon we headed up the coast to the RSPB's Labrador Bay reserve (which lies between Shaldon and Maidencombe) in the hope of connecting with Cirl Bunting. Labrador bay is a coastal reserve that is farmed and managed sympathetically to provide the correct habitats for the aforementioned species.
Initially the walk through the reserve was unsuccessful although there were 2 Peregrines, 2 Kestrels and a Common Buzzard showing well above the fields.
On the walk back Bev and I split up as she didn't want to walk the direct route through a field full of cows. Bev took a small path off to the right and I did my macho bit and waded through the cows. Suddenly my phone went. it was Bev and she thought she had a Cirl Bunting on a hedgerow along the path she had taken. I quickly rushed over and got on a cracking male Cirl Bunting...get in! This was a lifer for me, as the species is limited to a handful of sites in South Devon. Five more then flew up to the hedge from the adjacent stubble field, some of which were juveniles. Unfortunately our joy at seeing them was soon cut short when a para-glider landed in the adjacent field and put everything up. Ah well, mission accomplished all the same.
Cirl Bunting (record shot)
Tuesday 24th September - Totnes to Buckfastleigh:
Today we had a change of pace and had a ride out on the South Devon Railway from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. The SDR is a steam railway that runs for 7 miles alongside the beautiful upper stretches of the River Dart. I love Steam Railways, and no I'm not a train spotter but there is something nostalgic and beautiful about Steam Engines. The sights, sounds and smells...just great.
Whilst on the journey, and with the line running so close to the River Dart, I was able to undertake in a bit of 'steam birding'. From the comfort of my seat I observed 2 Dippers, 2 family parties of Mandarin duck, 2 Grey Wagtails and a Grey Heron.
On returning to Totnes the sun was shining and the walk along the River dart there was also quite rewarding with 2 Little Egrets showing very well along the muddy shoreline. On a Buddleia near the footbridge there was a nice selection of autumn butterflies with 4 Red Admiral, 2 Comma, 2 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Green-veined White and a Small White present. A Speckled Wood was feeding on a nearby Golden Rod and a Migrant Hawker dragonfly was hawking about nearby.
Little Egret - River Dart
Wednesday 25th September - Slapton Ley:
Today we decided to drive further south and pay a visit to Slapton Ley NNR. Slapton Ley is the largest natural lake in south-west England. Although it is only separated from the sea by a narrow shingle bar, it is entirely freshwater. The lake itself is surrounded by reed beds, marshes and woodland.
On arrival I was struck by how long and impressive the shingle bar/ beach at Slapton Ley is. To look at it reminded me a lot of Chesil Beach in Dorset.
We started our visit by undertaking a walk around the reed/marsh side footpaths at the north end. the walk wasn't as productive as we had hoped as much of the lake was covered in algal blooms at the north end. That said we did see plenty of insects feeding on the Ivy flowers including a Red Admiral and a Hornet. As the walk progressed the heavens opened up and we were subjected to a torrential downpour that lasted for the next few hours. We hurried back to the car to dry off and decided to drive down to the south end of the Ley. Here we sheltered from the rain in the car park hide where a Sedge Warbler was showing well on the reeds in front.
The water was clearer on this section of the Ley and subsequently there was more wildfowl present including Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Wigeon. No migrants or birds of any real interest were present. The rain persisted so we headed back home.
Friday 27th September - Greenway:
Today Bev & I visited the National Trust property of Greenway house & gardens. This house was the holiday home of Agatha Christie and her family, most of which were avid collectors of nic nacs and this property is jammed full of these collections (which are much more interesting than fine china etc. in my books!)
The estate/gardens were absolutely stunning and gave really good views over the upper areas of the River Dart. There were plenty of butterflies present feeding on the variety of flora including a lovely Painted Lady. At the garden pool there were a few dragonflies present with 3 Southern Hawkers and a ♂ Common Darter noted.
On the River Dart itself we could see yet another couple of Little Egrets. They are certainly fairly numerous down these parts.
This walk was a nice relaxed way to round off our week and I look forward to returning to the south west again in the not to distant future.